Historically, the role of the Climate of a place has been profound in the development and evolution of civilizations. For several decades, climate responsiveness has been equated to sustainability; rather than being included as a part of. Sustainability is a large and complex topic, having the simple truth at its heart that everything we need for survival and satisfactory sustenance is provided by the natural world. Thus acknowledging the natural forces and striking a balance with them seems to be not only imperative but also inevitable.
Ancient wisdom has always reinforced that the climate of a place has a deep impact on our psychology and physiology. Centuries of detailed intellectual architectural interventions can be seen as adaptations to local and regional climate where Climate was seen as a collaborator and not as an opponent. For eg “For in one part of the earth is oppressed by the sun in its course; in another course the sun is far removed from it. Yet in another it is affected by it at a moderate distance. Therefore in the suns course through the inclination of the zodiac, the relationship of the heavens to the earth is arranged by nature with varying effects, it appears that in like manner the arrangement of buildings should be guided by the locality and the changes of climate” – Vitruvius as quoted in book Climate and Architecture by Jeffery Ellin Aronin.
In Japan during the planning of the house due regard is given to the directions determined by an imaginary line drawn from the Northeast to the south west and North west to the South east, intersecting at right angles at the heart of the house. The regards to direction is sometimes looked upon as mere superstition, but when investigated reveal adherence to principles of hygiene, health, atmospheric conditions and regional attributes. Likewise in ancient Indian and Sri Lanka the inclusion of the Vastu Purusha Mandala in the design of temples, civic buildings and palatial homes was compulsive. From all of the above and several similar examples, it is evident that the persistent effort was to seek a connection with the natural world. The clear intention has not only been “Climate responsiveness” but also “Climate Inclusiveness” to ensure physical, mental and spiritual health. Climatic elements were not only seen as forces to endure but also as a resource for creating experiential architecture. Climate was either modulated, controlled or negotiated with, to facilitate the desired effect but never excluded from the experience. Only when the bitter cold is endured can the life enjoy and celebrate the spring; only when scorching summers are endured can the pleasantness of the rains be appreciated. For centuries climate was used as a natural medium in the architecture of man and nature to not only survive but also emphasize the deep rooted inter connectedness of man to the earth and subsequently the cosmos.
As Winston Churchill had to state, “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”. Post the industrial and technological revolution, there has been a dominance of primarily two schools of thought, the “Daring form based architecture” or the “Form follows function architecture”. The exciting probabilities offered by the technological innovations of the time changed the word Nature to Environment, and Climate was controlled not modulated or negotiated. The premise that our very survival depends on the natural world was soon forgotten and generations of buildings were designed to serve singular rudimentary objectives in isolation. The result being the impact of Buildings and Civilization on Climate has been unprecedented. As a corrective measure, the last few decades across the world has seen many examples of climate responsive architecture, passive solar architecture, low energy architecture, zero energy architecture, so on and so forth each achieving objectives of thermal comfort and low operating costs. The inclusion of climate in the design is in the form of a controlled parameter or variable which is prevalent locally, so as to facilitate optimum building performance. We may end up with a generation of buildings with an optimized building performance in the areas of energy and comfort; but completely lost in its ability to provide experiential architecture that is continuous, interrelated, integrated and interconnected with man and nature. It is time we bring a paradigm shift in our thinking about the term “climate responsiveness”, as a simple intention to protect and create a thermally comfortable environment leading to only an energy efficient architecture.
We have seen strong interdependencies between climate and culture since centuries. With hyper globalization and urbanization the regional relevance of culture seems to be diminishing. It may be flaunted in the arts and crafts, food and clothing, but lifestyles across the globe have become homogenous due to the poor climatic responses in the city. Thus the need to move from one controlled environment to the other, having 90% of their time indoors. This poses the dangers of a cultural disintegration and the emergence of an urbanized system with undefined values across the globe irrespective of its regional relevance. If a commonality in purpose is not identified, the threat to disruption of the societal fabric maybe eminent. Technological advancements and innovations have enabled us to move towards “One unified urban society”, globally. However in the absence of a larger goal and objectives the impacts have been devastating, threatening our very environment and thereby our survival. We are already mitigating alarming consequences in the form large scale global and violent Climate change events. It makes this generation of architects, developers, city authorities and finally governments think WHERE DID WE GO WRONG? WHERE DID IT ALL BEGIN?
While it has become absolutely essential for the buildings to respond to climate change; the question that arises is are we still addressing the problem in isolation? Are we asking the right questions?
This would call for a Conceptual Reframing and Re investigating our purpose and goals that would address the multifaceted complex relationship of the society with the built and natural environments as a whole. Architecture maybe posed once again as an interrelated, integrated continuous entity that has carefully sequenced spatial progression from the exterior to interior so as to facilitate interconnectedness within itself and with the natural world.
Could Climate change serve as an opportunity to rethink the way we design buildings and our societies? Do we have to only endure the climatic forces or see them as a rich resource for total wellbeing?
Is there a necessity to rethink the way we design with climate? Do climatic elements only include temperature, humidity and radiation? Or is it much more?
Does Climate Responsiveness have to include Climate Resilient Design only?
Can Climate Resilient Design serve as an opportunity to reunite the society globally with a common set of values for progression, evolution and future sustenance?
The answer seemingly complex, yet simple lies in the successful re-identification of the Role of Climate in Architecture, moving from Climate Responsive to Climate Inclusive Designs.